We all know the difference between day and night on Earth, but do light and darkness cause similar transformations on alien worlds? This is the question driving Planet Alpha, a 2D platformer featuring an unnamed spaceman, stranded on a mysterious planet. To escape, our lost astronaut is going to have to delve deeper into an unknown world, face alien threats, beat creative puzzles, and master innovative abilities.
Controls are basic; to explore the otherworldly environment, you’ll only need two buttons. X is jump, and square allows you to interact with the world around you, to move blocks to improve your reach or to crouch and hide from hostiles in the planet’s various clumps of flora. Most exciting though is the ability to change day to night at your leisure. Pulling the moon into orbit or leaving the sun dominant in the sky heavily alters the world around you.
Through the nocturnal hours, deadly insects flutter about the skies and will instantly attack you if you enter their line of sight. Under the cover of night, these airborne natives are impossible to sneak past, but accelerate the time of day and their attention will be turned to the fruits which bloom under the morning sun. As well as providing distractions, the ability to control the sun and moon creates paths for you to proceed on your journey. Plants swell under the heat of the sun, unknowingly creating a trail for you jump across. At first this unique aspect of gameplay is inventive but, eventually, it does become slightly repetitive, as all puzzles can be solved either by completing them in the dead of night or in the middle of the day – there is little variation beyond that.
As a 2D side scroller, the world is compact and filled with handy ledges, boulders, and slopes to help the spaceman work his way through the lush jungles and ethereal planes that dominate the planet. The initial trepidation of the first hour of the game encourages stealth and slow-paced exploration, but if your timing is spot on, you can sprint though sections of gameplay completely unharmed. It’s an interesting dynamic, as the pace varies throughout each chapter encouraging different approaches to puzzles and enemies.
While the world is initially only occupied by native animals, the story of Planet Alpha mainly revolves around a large-scale robotic invasion. Forgoing weapons, you’re forced to use your wits and manipulation of the environment to survive and avoid detection as the robot masses invade. With the number of threats on the planet, death is a frequent occurrence. During the four-hour long story, you’ll be shot at, viciously attacked by wildlife, and fall from great heights to your death. Thankfully, a forgiving auto-save system allows you to pick up exactly where you left off, preserving the flow of the game.
From the initial scene to the closing credits, Planet Alpha is a spectacle to behold. With a distinct lack of narrative delivered through dialogue, the scenery and environment power the story. The planet you find yourself stranded on is sectioned off into chapters featuring distinctive ecosystems, with unique flora and fauna contained inside them. Due to the depth in each environment, the game feels much more expansive than it is, with the 3D background spilling into the 2D foreground and breathing life into the world. There are eight lengthy chapters, each of which carefully expand the narrative through subtle environmental changes. It’s a simplistic tale which does become predictable as the game draws on, and although the game continues to provide creative puzzles and enemies to face, the conclusion is abundantly clear from the beginning.
Planet Alpha is an enjoyable sci-fi indie, one that is undeniably stunning and engaging thanks to a unique day-night dynamic and interesting puzzles. Its major downfall is the glaring predictability of the story, but most players will be over the moon with what this game has to offer.